Kimbra Is Now Somebody That She Used To Sing About Every Night
Ten years after winning two Grammys for “Somebody That I Used To Know,” Kimbra says the song’s premise is her “exact experience” in 2023.
In late 2020, like many people around the world, Kimbra hit a breaking point. After losing a best friend, leaving her longtime record label, and ending an almost “co-dependent” relationship, the New Zealand native retreated to Upstate New York alone to reckon with her emotions. “I wasn’t really happy with how I was handling things like anger and anxiety,” Kimbra tells Bustle. “When I’ve gone through bouts of depression, I used my art to investigate myself, like, ‘How can I channel this big heavy emotion into something meaningful and maybe even powerful and strong for the world?’”
Kimbra poured these feelings into her fourth studio album, fittingly titled A Reckoning. “I was not going to put out a record that was just like a bunch of candy,” she says (though she clarifies, “I f*cking love that sh*t, too”). Instead, A Reckoning sees Kimbra letting go of resentment that remained from relationships she lost and attempting to heal.
Even the album’s moments of levity, like the bouncy and hypnotic “replay!”, see Kimbra trying to stop battling herself, repeatedly saying, “I don’t want to fight,” in order to work toward a calmer future. “I think in my own relationships, I’ve had a tendency to not always know how to tame some of my impulses,” she admits. “We all have those dysfunctional relationships in our life where we just go around in circles, always in battle. But then it’s also just how much we fight with ourselves. I am always waking up to a war of thoughts, it seems.”
A Reckoning coincides with the 10-year anniversary of Kimbra winning her first Grammys. In 2013, she took home two Grammys alongside Gotye for their chart-topping collaboration “Somebody That I Used to Know,” becoming the first New Zealander to win Record of the Year. A decade later, Kimbra says the unexpected breakout hit resonates with her personally now more than ever. “I had not even been through my first breakup when I first sung that song,” she says. “Now, it’s suddenly my exact experience as I sung it every night. Sometimes songs... they’re saying your future.”
A Reckoning also serves as a declaration of independence. “I feel a very rooted energy,” she says. “The young version of myself was doing a lot of searching, and I feel compassion for her, you know?” Now, “This woman knows who she is. She knows the worst of herself and the best of herself.”
Below, Kimbra discusses winning two Grammys, the song she never wants to play live again, and what Gotye’s been up to.
On The Grammys & Gotye’s Disappearance From Music
What do you remember about winning your Grammy?
I remember seeing Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez and Adele standing up giving us a standing ovation when we were receiving the award and being like, “This is so crazy right now.” These are the culture shapers of the world, of art and culture. I also felt a deep sense of responsibility. When I ascended to those kinds of heights, I was like, “Alright, I want it to mean something.” I wanted it to inspire me to be more ambitious than ever, because if a song where I recorded the vocal in my bedroom with a guy that I was just a fan of can become record of the year all across the world, then let me just dream bigger than ever with my music. I think some people get those successes and then feel crushed by it. It was nice that I actually felt liberated because I was like, oh, anything is possible.
Fill in the blank: The Grammys are...
I would say fascinating, because you are in a room with so many influential people in one moment and you’re getting to witness it. I remember being there and taking it all in like a kid at Disneyland or something, just being like, “Whoa, sparkly dresses!”
Unlike you, Gotye has not released music since winning the Grammy. Do you still keep in touch with him?
We’re very close. And he is never not working. It’s just that he’s very different to me in the sense that he is private, and he keeps his work very private. It’s a concealed process until he’s ready to share it, but he absolutely will.
On The Song She’d Want Played At Her Funeral & The Weirdest Song She’s Written
What’s your go-to karaoke song?
I love the ’80s and I feel like they’re so fun to perform. Maybe it would be “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears. I can imagine really powering that out in a karaoke session.
What’s a song that you would want played at your wedding?
I really have a soft spot for that song by The Carpenters, “Close to You.” You know that one? [singing] “Why do birds suddenly appear?”
What song would you want played at your funeral?
I don’t want my death to be morbid. I don’t want it to be a downer. I do want it to be a celebration, so it would be something that really pumps me up... but encapsulates my life, too. Maybe it would be Prince. “Kiss” by Prince at my funeral. That’s so weird. My life is a kiss, you know?
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve written a song about?
A long time ago, I was asked by one of my dad’s friends — he was an artist and so he was very dreamy — to write a song for his pottery exhibition. He showed me the pot that he wanted me to be inspired by, I was probably 14 or 15 or something, and the song’s just called “Pottery Song.” It’s me just waxing poetic about this porcelain vase that he made, and trying to come up with metaphors for it. But now I look back, and it’s a really weird thing to write a song about.
Is there an instrument that you wish you played?
I wish I was really good at the vibraphone. The one that you go ding, and it’s really big, because it just sounds so angelic.
Is there a genre that you wish you made music in?
I really like ambient music, like meditation music that has no vocals, no drums. It would be really relaxing to make. And then I also would make just pure drum music... super rhythmic, no vocals, just all drum machines. Complete opposite [of each other]. I mean, that’s me.
On Kathryn Hahn & Why Incubus Cuts Too Deep
What’s one song that you can never listen to again, and why?
It would probably be “Drive” by Incubus, because Incubus were just this huge band in my life for a period of time, that to go back and listen to them now would almost be too emotional. It associates with my awkward insecure high school years and I loved that, but I’m done with that period of my life. No shade to Incubus, but there’s just some songs that take you back a little too deep.
Is there a song that you never want to play live again?
Honestly, I love this song and I’m proud of it, but “90s Music” from The Golden Echo. It is so high. Every time I have to sing that live, I’m like, “Why do I do this to myself? Why?” It just goes so many places, and I just want to chill when I play my shows now.
Music snobbery is...
Boring. If you really hate something, you should ask yourself why you hate it and look deeper into it. Being snobby about something that is genuinely one of those positive forces in the world is very cynical.
Who would you want to play you in a musical of your life?
Kathryn Hahn. I want to be Kathryn Hahn when I grow up. She’s just such a hilarious and fun but really amazing actress, and embodies a strong woman to me, and I would be honored if she played me in my life. She has dark brown hair, too.
What is the song that you’ve written that you're most proud of?
I think “Save Me.” I think so many people have said that it has spoken to them, which is a beautiful thing. I had to be very honest with myself to say those things out loud, and I think I’m proud of the courage it took to make a song that was an expression of a really hard, low moment in my life.
I’m proud that I had the courage to be like, “F*ck it. This is me. Life is hard, and I feel like I’m going to drown in my feelings sometimes.” I’m proud that I didn't run away from it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.